A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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What role does the Common Man play in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons?

The Common Man plays the role of the average person or everyman in this play. He appears in a number of different guises. He is meant to be a bridge between the audience and the play, as the attitudes he expresses are still common among ordinary people today and to show how the attitudes of the average person are complicit in the downfall of great men.

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The Common Man, as his name indicated, plays the role of the average person or everyman in this play. As such, he appears in a number of different guises. While he is not based on any historic figure, he plays roles that average people would have to have fulfilled in...

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The Common Man, as his name indicated, plays the role of the average person or everyman in this play. As such, he appears in a number of different guises. While he is not based on any historic figure, he plays roles that average people would have to have fulfilled in Tudor England: he acts as More's jailer in the Tower of London, he functions as the More's rower, he is the jury foreman when More is tried for refusing to take the oath of obedience to Henry VIII, and finally, he becomes More's executioner. He changes clothes on stage, showing that underneath his various outfits, he is still the representative of the ordinary person. He also explains the parts of Tudor history important to the drama that might not be obvious to an audience and tells the audience about scene changes.

He is meant to be a bridge between the audience and the play, as the attitudes he expresses are still common among ordinary people today and to show how the attitudes of the average person are complicit in the downfall of great men. Also, Bolt seems to indicate that although unnamed and often left out of the historical account, the average person or Common Man plays an actual role in history, often interpreting the events of great men for us as well as doing the dirty work (rowing, jailing, beheading) that enables the dramatic deeds of history to unfold as they do.

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Bolt's character of the Common Man in A Man for All Seasons is in modern drama both something new and old: New, because he acts in many different roles to establish his credentials as a mouthpiece for humanity; old, because he functions rather in the manner of the Chorus found in much classical Greek theatre. What distinguishes the Common Man from the Chorus is the kind of judgment on human experience. Where the Chorus provided the heroes and heroines with the insights they needed to choose the good, the Common Man in his various manifestations tends toward moral turpitude. For example, when the jailer muses about whether to set free the imprisoned More, he addresses the audience on the theme of the futility of trying to do the right thing. Overall, the Common Man is complicit in the legal and political malice visited upon More, and thus acts as a foil to the noble conscience of the saint.

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